You give a rather bleak vision of our future in 2052. What was your intent ?

My personal intent was that I have spent 40 years of my life working for sustainable development. I am now an old man and I have failed because the world is less sustainable at this point in time than 40 years ago. And so, when I decided to write the book, I basically wrote it for my sanity’s sake. 2052 is nothing but a description of the type of world that we, in the global society, are going to decide for ourselves over the next 40 years.

How do you see 2052?

There will be slow economic growth in the rich world, persistent unemployment, social friction, increasing inequity - all the problems that arise because you don't manage to get the economy to grow. This will be against a background of steadily worsening climate conditions, with the weather getting more and more extreme all the time (more droughts, more floods, more forest fires, slowly rising sea levels, etc.).

This is going to happen sporadically – not in a predictive pattern – and after a while, these things are going to get so extreme that they will start to get scary.

What will happen over the next 40 years?

I don’t think anything is going happen over the next 40 years. It’s easy enough to do something about it – we know exactly what is needed to reduce the climate programme. The simple problem is that it costs more to do something than to do nothing. And, consequently, people will not vote in favour of these solutions.

The sad fact, in my view, is that most people today in the rich world are not willing to sacrifice the additional money that it would cost to solve the whole problem.

You are in favour of intelligent regulation. What do you mean by this?

I am not a free-market person. I don’t believe the free market will solve the fundamental problems. I’m in favour of strong government and certainly of wise regulation.

And the role of ISO, in my view, is very important and very useful. The fact that standards exist and that ISO exists does provide some hope because it means that our democratic society manages to make decisions in an egalitarian and equitable manner.

As part of the Geneva University/ISO Master’s programme on standardization social regulation and sustainable development, Jørgen Randers gave a fascinating conference that was followed by 670 people in Geneva and many more via Internet. Watch the podcast of the conference here.